“If you can’t see beyond your personal interests, you’d better start a private business because politics is more than that”

On Monday, Jobbik’s Róbert Dudás took his oath as an MP to replace Ádám Mirkóczki. We asked the former mayor of Mátraballa about such issues as the chance of development for rural areas, Hungary’s position in the European Union, what kind of role he wants to play in the party, how he sees Jobbik’s present and future as well as if he would run for vice president in the party’s next congress.

You came to replace Ádám Mirkóczki who retired from national politics and became the mayor of Eger. Compared to his, your path seems to be just the opposite since you have been working as Mátraballa’s mayor for five years. Why didn’t you run in the next term? Did you expect to be an MP?

I’m not saying it never crossed my mind to enter the national political arena but I wouldn’t have gambled on that because there were no preliminary discussions. The reason I didn’t run again for the mayoral seat was because I had been filling too many positions in the past five years and even being a mayor was a full time job, especially the way I was doing it. So I had to make a decision which way to go forward.

What do you mean by “the way you were doing it”?

I believe in a village like Mátraballa, which has a population around 750, if you want to be a good leader, you need to work as a village caretaker rather than just a mayor. Instead of being in the office from 8 to 4, it often meant that I was available and took care of things around the clock. If someone has a problem, the mayor or the council members need to be available. There was a case when an old lady came up to me and said: “Robi, could you please get my medication from the pharmacy in the neighbouring city,” so I got in the car and drove there. If you manage to create a familiar, friendly atmosphere, the word of mouth will attract people who like order in their lives.

In your farewell speech, you mentioned how proud you were that Mátraballa’s population was no longer in decline, which is indeed rare for a village that size in Hungary. Do you think this positive development was due to your attitude?

Partly. The other part was that ours is quite a homogeneous village which stands out from the other nearby settlements. There’s no disorderly conduct, there are no drug addicts, public security and education is good. That’s the reason why the local kindergarten and the elementary school is so overbooked, for example. Many parents thought they’d rather move to the village than keep commuting with their children. When I became mayor, there were 80 properties for sale in the village. Now it’s around 10. Most of them were bought by decent families who typically renovated these houses, too.

So your case rather seems like an exception than an universal recipe of success for small villages...

We did have an advantage early on, sure. But I believe people can always improve their conditions no matter where they live. It’s just that they sometimes lack the determination. Many villages are just content when there’s a group of people who are financially dependent on the mayor, who will then feel reassured to win the next election and is reluctant to do anything for the village. Unfortunately, my experience was that some mayors regard this position as a huge status boost and they have zero respect for the public. They look on the public property and institutions as if they were their own, from the moment they get into office. They monopolize them. They use the office building to throw parties for their friends, for example. My philosophy is that it’s the village that needs the mayor and not the mayor needs the village. That’s why I did my job as a societal mandate.

Societal mandate? Does it mean that you didn’t take remuneration for it?

It means that I renounced my full salary and my expense account and the council voted an honorary fee for me. This way I left HUF 4.5 million in the annual budget. I took over the village with quite a large budget deficit but it had a surplus of HUF 15 million when I handed it over to my successor. Here in the Parliament that 15 million might look like a trivial sum but it is indeed a substantial amount for a village with a total annual budget of HUF 80-90 million.

 

Photo: Balázs Béli

I guess your honorary fee may not have been too high, so you must’ve had some other income to support your family.

Yes, as I mentioned earlier I had other offices as well. In addition to working as a mayor, I was the leader of Jobbik’s faction in the county council and was a representative in the Committee of Regions in Brussels.

So you lost all of it now that you became an MP?

That’s correct. Membership in the Committee of Regions is tied to working in local councils. In fact, it’s even tied to the municipality, too. I was working there as Mátraballa’s mayor so when I decided not to run again, my mandate was automatically discontinued on 13 October. That’s what I regret the most. Since I majored in international relations, this job gave me a chance to use my degree. I was actually quite proud that out of Hungary’s 3200 mayors, Balatonfüred’s pro-government mayor and I were the only ones to be members of the 12-strong national delegation.

Of all EU institutions, the Committee is the one that applies the subsidiarity principle the most. In your experience, how effective was its operation?

I believe it is a very important institution because the issues are discussed by actual practical users of the particular regulations, so they are not sitting in a ivory tower trying to figure out what the optimal solutions could be. I’m not presuming any malevolence, though. What I’m saying is that a person without any practical experience will be unable to determine what people, towns or villages actually need. However, leverage is very important here, too. If we lose our credibility, our motions will be treated differently. Unfortunately, the criticism about Hungary’s rule of law in the past few years have affected us, too.

In what way? You must’ve experienced how Hungary is treated internationally.

The biggest problem is that the Hungarian pro-government MEPs seem to have put on some special glasses. They don’t realize that they are causing harm not only to their own party but to Hungary, too, when they ignore how dumbfounded the EU’s decision-making bodies and even the member states and their leaders are when they look at certain events that took place in Hungary recently. The pro-government MEPs are fully convinced that there’s a rule of law and free media in Hungary. In fact, they think the opposition media is dominant and they keep voicing this message everywhere. This kind of thinking doesn’t even trigger any debate in the EU anymore. They just take these statements as utter lies. If Fidesz politicians keep ignoring this and fail to realize their error, it will sooner or later have a negative impact on our country, for example when the next budget is voted on. If certain funds are tied to rule of law matters, we can expect serious resource cuts, which will affect the Hungarian people rather than the government.

As far as leverage goes, Jobbik is not in an easy position in the EU. As a non-attached party, you have little room to maneuver.

We’ve often been told that we would have less leverage as a non-attached party, and it’s a correct statement. But if the governing party, which is still a member of EPP but its opinions are largely ignored, loses its leverage, it will hurt Hungary as well as that particular party. For example, we had a motion submitted by a pro-government MP. Just because of the person who submitted it, the proposal was ripped to pieces so much that the final document we were able to forward was substandard and deprived of any value. He explained away the rejection of the motion claiming that it was not supported by the Socialist and the Liberal factions when in fact some MEPs of his own group voted against it. As far as I can see, Fidesz doesn’t have a long time left in the EPP. But it’s also true that there have never been so many non-attached MEPs as today.

Are they waiting for their chance?

Yes. The Brexit will matter a lot because there will be a reorganization in terms of group memberships and powers, depending on how many MEPs leave.

Going back to domestic waters. Rejecting a motion just because of its submitter is a common practice in Hungary, too. Few opposition bills could pass in the Parliament in the past nine years. Aren’t you frustrated by this fruitless work? Or do you see any chance for a change, in light of the results in the latest local elections?

I don’t see much chance. At least not as long as this arrangement prevails. I didn’t need a long time to realize no matter how reasonable and important a question is, the government will keep referring back to the pre-2010 era and divert the discussion. The only window of opportunity for Hungary’s political sphere is if we can break this spiral of “everybody fighting everybody else all the time”.

We should reach the point where we can rise above partisanship and debate over issues instead. It doesn’t matter which party brought it up. What matters is if it a good issue or not. For 29 years now, they’ve been playing this game that whatever the opposition says is bad so the governing party votes it down. Then, after the change of government, if the current opposition brings up the exact same issue, it is voted down by the very party that used to support it but is now in government. These politicians look at nothing but their own selfish interests.

But if you’re unable to look beyond your personal interest, you’d better stop this right now. Quit the Parliament, launch your own private business because that’s where you don’t need to focus on anything other than yourself. Politics must be much more than that.

But some of those politicians are still around on the opposition side and Jobbik now cooperates with them...

The fact that the opposition could get to this point is a positive development overall. There are some issues we can all endorse and there are some where we disagree but are still able to debate them. So I think the best idea for the opposition would be to coordinate their candidates for the 2022 elections because it would allow us to bring back real debates and democracy into the Parliament and finally put an end to this rule by force which relies on the government’s dominance. However, it doesn’t mean that the political parties should lose their identity.

Now that you mention it, there’s a lot of guessing going on about Jobbik’s identity nowadays...

In my opinion, Jobbik’s direction must be nothing but a conservative Christian line. These are the values we must represent. I feel that even though the governing party displays these words on its banner, it has very much moved towards the extreme. In other words, the Jobbik of 2010 seems to have changed places with the Fidesz of 2019. Unfortunately, some people are slow to realize that. Especially in Brussels. But, as I mentioned before, if the EPP expelled Fidesz, then I’d be very happy if our currently non-attached MEP Márton Gyöngyösi could join the party family. This would be the right position for the present and future Jobbik. And it would complete the change of places you mentioned.

 

 

Although the party’s announcement said you’d be involved in the economic and social areas, this interview makes me think you’d be more interested in municipal or foreign affairs. As Enikő Hegedűsné Kovács left the party, the municipal area is kind of orphaned while foreign affairs also have a reduced representation now that Márton Gyöngyösi went to the EP.

Honestly speaking, this wasn’t discussed or agreed in advance. They may have come to this conclusion because I had worked as head of the economic and social committees in the Heves County council. On the other hand, it’s true that my experience in municipal affairs and my degree in international policy would rather predestine me to conduct such activities. The board and I will jointly decide which areas we should give priority to.

Talking about the board, party leaders are to be elected soon. When did you decide to run for vice president in the party election which were first scheduled to an earlier date, then postponed?

Originally I wasn’t planning to run for vice president.

Yet Péter Jakab named you as one of his potential vice presidents he could work with.

Yes. Let me draw a parallel between Péter and me: Péter wasn’t planning to become president, either. He was asked to. We had an assembly meeting in May where most delegates wanted Péter Jakab to be Jobbik’s president. In the summer he decided that if that’s what best serves the interests of the movement, he would run for president. Then he told me he would expect me to be on his team. My answer was that I hadn’t planned to become vice president but I want to support him and work with him. If he thinks this is the best way for me to help the party, I will undertake this task and go forward with him on this road. So I will be among the vice presidential candidates in the next party election.

 

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